Picture and text from the Tri-State Tribune
The late Harold McLain pointing at a bullet hole, a souvenir of a bank holdup.
The site was once the inside wall of the bank. .
by Charlotte Cox
A rough, tough and lawless mining boom town, Tar River was so fuII of gamblers, they had to wear badges," was one old timer’s description of the wild town which saw its first lead and zinc mine opened in 1913 and seven years later became the town of Cardin. The speaker was the late Orville Benscoter, a Cardin lumberman.
"The town was a tough one," according to the late Harold McLain, who was raised at Tar River. He added, "Three vice lords controlled Tar River and Picher but the toughest person at Tar River was a newspaper editor. He weighed 350 pounds and every pound was a tough one.
Benscoter and McLain knew the editor first hand. They worked regularly as his paper boys. They reminisced further about the editor.
"The heavyweight editor always carried a 30-30 Winchester," said McLain. Which was necessary, as every paragraph in his weekly newspapers “exposed” graft and bribery in Ottawa County, from top county officials to lowest local officers and the big gambling bosses, calling the gambling bosses by name.
The editor was tagged with the nickname "The Rounder," because his chief publication had that name. Other editions had equally as colorful names, including the "Anti Hijacker”, with its Vol. 1, No. 1 published while the editor was in the county jail at Miami. "Every so often, they (the political ring) would drum up charges against the Rounder and throw him in jail," said McLain.
The first column of the Anti Hijacker's first edition was headlined: "From the Editor's Cell." The rounder said the “amateur sleuths” guarding his cell would never discover his “secret wire" necessary for printing his paper. The two old timers left the topic of The Rounder and got into mining, and their recollections of its developments.
They reported lead and zinc mining developing fast and furious with Picher coming into existence a year after Tar River. Picher later became the center of the world's largest lead and zinc mining field. Numerous other mining towns soon developed around the area and adjoining Picher. Thousands of people moved into Tar River in its early days, some in tents others in small shacks, erected overnight.
"Hammering went on at Tar River until midnight," according to Benscoter, as he recalled the way the miner's shacks were hastily put together. He remembered, we lived in a one room house, size 10' by 10'. We put the beds outside during the day and brought them in and put the tables and chairs out at night."
Another old timer, still living at Cardin, recalls first living in a tent after coming to the mining field. "I barricaded the door every night because of the many gang fights and shooting scrapes." Another recalls, "We often heard of people being killed and, buried in chat piles, and of others thrown in shafts." A former Cardin businessman, now deceased, said, “I imagine as these chat piles are hauled away, many a man's bones are being hauled off."
Benscoter and others remembered when a mutilated hand of a man was found behind one of the speakeasies in Tar River. "Where it came, from or who it had belonged to we never knew,” Benscoter said.
A longtime courthouse official at Miami, now deceased, once related how he was walking down a side street in Cardin when a gunshot sounded and a man walking in front of him fell dead. “No mention of the murder was ever noised abroad, nor was it ever printed in a newspaper," he said.
However, The Rounder continually printed accounts of murdered people being “put underground" or disappearing. The Aug. 17, 1918, edition of the Anti-Hijacker stated that 25 officers in the county would be on trial as accessories to murder if they allowed a murderer to be convicted
The old timers continued, "Tar River skyrocketed into a wild mining town, with 18 to 20 grocery stores, numerous livery stables, speakeasies, five theaters, gambling halls, several pool halls, and an open air dance hall,” Benscoter recalled.
McLain recalled, “With miners getting paid on Saturday night, Tar River and Picher banks stayed open Saturday nights to cash their checks."
McLain recalled, when the Miner's Bank of Tar River was robbed "I was just a kid,” he said “Fires were announced at Tar River then by a gunshot, so when I heard shots at the bank, I thought it was a fire. I ran across the street and into the bank, yelling 'fire! fire!’". He said the robbery was a trap, set up between officers and one of the three robbers. The robber who "ratted" ran out the front door and was allowed to get away. One of the two robbers leaving through the rear door was shot and killed. The other was hospitalized with gunshot wounds, later stood trial, and served time in the penitentiary.
One old timer recalled, "Dust was six inches deep in summers at Tar River, and mud that deep in the winter time." He added, "Board sidewalks were built. Water was hauled from North Miami, selling at $1 per barrel."
The town was named for a creek flowing across its east edge with tar oozing from its banks. The creek was named “Tar Creek", with the town's name elevated to Tar River.
The late Frank Sanders, who operated lumber businesses at Cardin and at Picher; said the town was incorporated while it was Tar River but that the incorporation was dissolved after it became Cardin, because of heavy tax problems.
Old timers said Cardin was named after Oscar Cardin, an Indian whose 40 acres of land on the north side of what Cardin's Main Street was sold in deeded lots. He said residents on the south side of the street pay ground rent for living on Indian land, as many Picher residents do.
Tar River's post office was officially changed to Cardin, Jan. 28, 1920. But old timers still claim the south side of the street is Tar River. One old timer said he often gets mail addressed to Tar River (probably, from another old time Tar River resident).
Cardin township stretches over a large area. Its law abiding citizens are far different from the lawless characters "exposed" by The Rounder, of course. McLain, former mayor at Picher, and longtime operator of a dry cleaning business, gave the last report on The Rounder.
“They never got rid of him (The Rounder) although they gave it a good try," he said, and added, "The big boys he exposed circulated the news among their own men that a $1,000 reward would be given to the person killing The Rounder”.
Benscoter and McLain had good reason to remember the tough editor. They were his paper boys. They talked of the days when the editor "leaned his 30-30 up against the corner at the front of the building where the post office was then located every Saturday afternoon while he handed us our papers." (Tar River's Post office was in the building that formerly housed the VonMoss store, and now houses the Cardin Thrift Shop, operated by Mrs. L. L. McCurry.)